Steve Buscemi's debut film as director, Trees Lounge is a 1996 black dramedy film surrounding the world of jaded barflies in a Long Island corner.
It stars Buscemi as Tommy Basilio, a man who has been recently fired from his job as a mechanic and lost his pregnant girlfriend, Theresa (Elizabeth Bracco), to his ex-friend/boss Rob (Anthony LaPaglia). Tommy's life has reduced itself to the simple tasks of constantly roaming looking for a job, asking his parents for handouts or simply hanging out the local waterhole known as "Trees Lounge" where misfits, drunks and miserable people gather for one more drink.
Between the patrons are:
- Mike Hyde (Mark Boone Junior), a man who's come from the big city to find respite...only to find himself drinking every day and ignoring his crumbling marriage.
- Crystal (Debi Mazar), a drinker by night, a caring mother by day.
- Connie (Carol Kane), the cheerful bartender.
- Jackie (Suzanne Shepherd) and Stan (Rockets Redglare), a couple who spend their time bickering and drinking.
- And lastly, Bill (Bronson Dudley), an old, despairing man who's the quintessential picture of The Alcoholic.
As luck would have it, Tommy's Uncle Al (Seymour Cassel) dies during one of his Good Humor Ice Cream truck rounds. Running out of options, he takes the job only to find much less success and spend most of his time talking to his ex's niece, Debbie (ChloŽ Sevigny) with whom he might be forming a deeper bond.
Contains examples of:
- The Alcoholic: Almost every character hits the bar at one point.
- Tommy rents a room upstairs Trees Lounge and is frequently drinking. His first scene is Connie waking him up because she needs to close the bar.
- Mike prefers drinking to going back home which is a contributing factor to his wife taking their daughter and leaving him.
- No one, however, holds a candle to Bill, whose entire life revolves about sitting in his usual stool and only signaling for someone to pour him a drink. It leads him to the hospital.
- The Alleged Boss: Judging by Wendell and James's comments, Mike's drinking lifestyle has made him pretty hands-off regarding his moving business.Wendell: Mr. Hyde! So this is where you "hide"!
- Ambiguous Ending: Tommy returns after destroying his life once more. Since Bill is in the hospital, he takes his place and orders a beer but looks immediately remorseful and contemplates his life. Will he keep drinking and messing up or is he on the verge of putting his life together?
- Ambiguous Situation:
- There's no final say on whether Theresa's baby is Rob or Tommy's. She tries to emphasize how little it matters; she's now with Rob and has no intention of getting back with Tommy, yet Rob constantly brings the possibility and at least Tommy seems to think it's his.
- Coupled with the above, did Rob steal Theresa, were they sneaking behind Tommy or was the relationship on the rocks before the two got together? Not helping is everyone's perception of the events: Tommy believes Rob stole Theresa, Rob holds they started after they broke up and Theresa implies she and Tommy were already done before they even broke up.
- Bill is in critical condition at the hospital by the end. It's up in the air whether he survives or dies.
- Anti-Hero: Tommy is a Classical Anti-Hero; not really a bad guy but lacking in motivation and unwilling to take any control of his life. If anything, the film shows most of his issues come from a lack of foresight and self-restraint, emboldened by his bitterness and alcoholism.
- Author Avatar: According to Buscemi, Basilio is a "portrait of a direction [his] life was going in before [he] started acting".
- The Bartender: Connie, who's unusually peppy for her surroundings.
- Black Comedy: Issues like addiction, dysfunction, broken families, death and unemployment are played realistically but most of the humor comes from the characters' pitiful excuses for their behavior as well as the absurd situations they get themselves into.
- The Cameo:
- Samuel L. Jackson and Lawrence Gilliard Jr. appear briefly as Wendell and James, two movers working for Mike.
- Seymour Cassel has a minor role as Uncle Al.
- Michael Imperioli makes an appearance as George, Tommy's cousin.
- Central Theme: A recurring theme is people's bottomless ways of self-destruction, often as a way to avoid facing bigger issues. Since it's a Black Comedy, it's milked for humor and tragedy alike.
- Tommy's drinking problem is to paper over bitterness regarding the fallout with Theresa and Rob as well as the realization he just doesn't have much going for him. He could stop drinking but doesn't see any reason to do so which leads to even worse situations.
- Mike is unsatisfied with his life, blaming it instead on his environment; e.g. the anxiety of the big city. Moving to Long Island for the small city life, his coping methods revolve around cocaine and beer which estrange him from his family.
- Bill has nothing left in his life beyond drinking. His lack of awareness and continued drinking lead him to have a brain aneurysm.
- Rob and Theresa have trouble discussing their hangups regarding Tommy with each other, instead opting for avoidance (Theresa) and anger issues (Rob). They're also unable (and somewhat unwilling) to cut him out of their life since they frequent some of the same places.
- Tommy's parents can't help but constantly give Tommy handouts like money and cigarettes even if they know all too well it's doing nothing.
- Uncle Al was a good ice-cream man whose work ethic and caring for his young customers came at the expense of his own family and his own health. His son Matthew regrets never having a closer relationship with him and self-medicates with blow.
- City Mouse: This forms the basis of Mike and his wife Marie's clash: they lived in the big city but Mike grew restless and depressed with it all and wanted them to relocate to a smaller town. Marie, opposed to the idea from the beginning, wants to move back once she sees he's just as miserable and neglectful as ever.
- Death by Cameo: Seymour Cassel appears as Uncle Al in two scenes. The second one is in a posthumous Happier Home Movie.
- Dramedy: Even with the comedy, the film has a constant melancholy tone and never shies away from showing the realistic downsides of each character's lifestyle.
- I'll Tell You When I've Had Enough!: Most clientele prefer to drink themselves into a stupor, restraint and counsel be damned. At one point, the bartender in-shift even bets Tommy 10 bucks he won't do only one shot. He not only does it, he drinks an open beer and flees with the money!
- Jaded Washout: At 31 years, Tommy hasn't really made much of his life and the few things he's done have fucked his life even more.
- Local Hangout: The titular "Trees Lounge".
- Older Than They Look:
- Despite coming with Wendell, James looks way too young for a beer and has forgotten his ID. It's only because of Mike vouching for him he even gets one.
- Inverted and exploited when Debbie and her friend sneak into the Lounge to score booze. Since the bartender won't sell alcohol to minors, she proclaims Tommy to be her boyfriend so he'll vouch for her.
- Seriously Scruffy: Mike spends most of his time at the bar with a messy haircut and an open shirt while Bill has given up on having any aesthetic dressing code whatsoever.
- Slice of Life: Rather than having a plot, the film is more of a character study, showing the days in the life of an alcoholic.